Saturday, March 26, 2011

We Have Babies!

Our mourning dove babies have hatched. Sorry about the poor quality of the picture--you can just see one of the babies off to the right--but I took it holding my camera over my head with the parents fussing at me from the gate, and I didn't want to disturb them any more than I was already doing.

Fortunately, this pair nested earlier than last year's, so I've managed to keep one of the plants in the basket alive to offer the babies some protection. I find it interesting that you only ever see one dove around the nest when they're sitting on the eggs, but as soon as they hatch both parents spring into action. This basket is exactly six feet from my office French door, so I have a front row seat to their activity.

Update: I managed to get a better picture today, of the mama and one of her babies. The previous snap was taken on Friday. Look how much the baby has grown in just one day.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Strange Goings-on in the Publishing Industry

The publishing world is all aflutter this week, thanks to two contradictory and coincidentally timed occurrences.

On the one hand, NYT bestselling thriller writer Barry Eisler announced that he was walking away from a half-million dollar, two-book deal (that’s $250,000 a book) with St. Martin’s Press in order to self-publish in e-book format only. (I'd like to note without being catty that this contract represented a considerable step down from his previous contract with Random House.) Seems SMP wouldn’t concede to Eisler’s demands for a higher percentage of e-book royalties; Eisler got mad and walked.

Eisler has a long (emphasis on long) post about why he did this on his blog here . He makes a lot of good points about the publishing industry—my personal favorite being that the industry is outsourcing much of its work, such as weeding through the slush pile (a task now performed by agents since most publishers refuse to accept unagented submissions) and promotion (we all know how much authors are expected to do their own self-promotion these days) while retaining the same share of profits. (Can I add copy writing to the list of out-sourced tasks?) And I do think it’s disgusting that authors get less than 15% in real terms of e-book sales. Since the cover price of e-books is lower than that of hardcovers, the rise in e-books is seriously hurting authors’ take home pay.

However, I’m not one of those (many, many) authors jumping up and down, applauding Eisler’s move and saying, “Oh, this is such a good model; let’s all dump our publishers and self-publish e-books for $2.99.” According to Eisler, authors who stand up for print publishing—which he derogatorily labels “legacy publishing”—are suffering from a form of Stockholm Syndrome. Personally, I think Eisler left several factors out of his calculation. First of all, he foresees the sales of his books continuing at the same pace ad infinitum. In my experience, this just doesn’t happen. There is a huge burst of sales when a book is first released, then the sales trickle off month by month. By my reckoning, he would need to sell something like 400 e-books a day for 300 days before breaking even. In order to achieve these sales, he will be lowering the price of his e-books, which of course he can do since he’ll be getting 70% of the price rather than only 14%. It’s been proven that e-books with lower prices get higher sales. However, if everyone lowers their price, that benefit will evaporate. And then "legacy published" authors will be left with 15% of that much lower price, which will work out to considerably less than 50 cents a book. Thanks a lot, Barry.

Secondly, not everyone has an e-reader. Not everyone wants an e-reader. Barry Eisler fans without readers will either have to go through a cumbersome POD rigmarole, or look for new authors. Which do you think is more likely?

Thirdly, while publishers don’t do as much promotion as we’d like them to, lead titles (like Eisler's) do get promoted. For one thing, publishers pay coop to put those books in the front of stores and in the newsagents in airports. I’ve heard that airport bookstores are getting unhappy because businessmen will walk into their stores, browse the newly released hardcovers, then walk away and download the e-book. Much easier than flying with a big hardcover. But if an author's new release isn't in Hudson’s News, those businessmen are going to pick up the newest release by some author who has stuck with the “legacy publishers.”

There are other factors at play here: I can’t see Hollywood or foreign publishers combing the ranks of self-published writers looking for their next blockbuster. Eisler, of course, already has foreign publishers, who will not doubt continue to print his books. Interesting he’s still willing to work with overseas “legacy publishers.” Of course, he needs them to pay for the translators. (You can read Eisler’s rant about the cover his French publisher gave one of his books here. Now, I’ve complained about covers in the past, but this is just, well, wow.)

Ironically, the day after Eisler’s bombshell hit the news, Amanda Hocking, who recently created shockwaves by making over a million dollars on her self-published e-book young adult vampire series, signed a reported two million dollar contract (four books, roughly $500,000 each), with—double irony—St. Martin’s Press. Amanda, the guru of self-publishing in e-book format, evidently believes the “legacy publishers” still have something to offer her. You can read Amanda’s take on the controversy here.

Update: Historical romance author Connie Brockway is also "going rogue" and is leaving Avon for the world of self-publishing. You can read her take on the subject here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Murder by the Book

Last Saturday I did a signing at Murder by the Book, a wonderful little mystery bookstore in Houston, Texas.

I suspect the publishing industry would be in much better shape if we still had more bookstores like Murder by the Book. These people know books, they know authors, and they know their customers. "Hand selling" is something that used to go on in bookstores all the time--a familiar customer walks in the door, the book dealer says, "I just got in a book that you're going to love!" and puts the new book into the reader's hands. This is how new authors find readers--by word of mouth. And no one is better at generating positive word of mouth than a bookseller.

But with the slow death of independent bookstores, hand selling is disappearing fast. The clerks at Barnes and Noble tend to turn over constantly. Many of them don't read themselves, and they certainly don't take the time to learn the reading tastes of their customers. So the disappearance of the independent bookstores is one more factor contributing to the disappearance of midlist authors and the dominance of the franchised blockbuster.

But Murder by the Book is doing just great. They've carved out a niche selling autographed books, so that about a third of their business comes from mail orders for signed releases. I was amazed at how many people turned out to listen to me talk and have their books signed. People actually had numbers. You know, like at a Sarah Palin booksigning (only there were about 30 people there rather than 2,000). Frankly, I was stunned to realize that I had so many devoted readers in the Houston area. This was my second signing at Murder by the Book, and I fully intend to go back again.

Photos by Marc Brubaker--I forgot to take pictures myself

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Authors as Franchises

An ugly new trend is taking over the publishing industry: it’s called franchised authors.

Over the past several decades there has been a marked shift in the way books are distributed and sold. Almost without exception, those changes have resulted in a larger share of the market going to blockbuster or bestselling authors while the print runs of midlist authors continue to shrink. For example, 25 years ago it wasn’t uncommon for a new romance author to get a print run of 100,000; today, such an author is lucky if 20,000 copies of her first book are printed. Print runs of four figures are not unknown. And if print runs for new mystery authors were any lower, they’d be in negative numbers.

As a result, publishers look at their bottom line and say, What we need to do is publish more books by our Names and fewer books by these pesky Unknowns. The problem is, authors can only write one or two books a year. So what to do? Why, get those poor desperate underemployed midlist authors to actually write the books, then slap the bestselling Name on the cover. The book sells millions of copies. The Name makes millions. The publisher makes millions. Readers are happy. Everyone is happy except for the poor exploited sucker who actually wrote the book.

Some franchised authors such as James Patterson or Clive Cussler at least acknowledge their "co-authors" by putting the writer's name in eensy weensy letters behind the word “with” on the cover. But other authors insist on perpetuating what is essentially a lie; their ghostwriters are given no credit at all.

So how much do these bestselling authors actually contribute to the books that carry their names? It various, obviously, but the answer is often very little (and almost never as much as they claim in interviews). All parties to these agreements—agents, editors, and authors—are bound by nondisclosure agreements. But people do talk (especially after a few glasses of wine). So I can tell you that sometimes the Name will send the ghostwriter a vague plot outline (with emphasis on the word “vague”), while some Names content themselves with a final edit. And then there’s the Name who says in effect, “I want a new series with a female protagonist sorta like that guy in It Takes a Thief; remember him? Yeah. Oh, and I like horses, so put some horses in there.”

How much do these ghostwriters or “co-authors” make? While the Name pockets an advance of as much as a couple of million, holds film rights, and receives royalties, the poor sucker who actually wrote the book is lucky to get a one-time check for $50-75,000. One well-known romance author paid the man who wrote a half-dozen of her romances $4,000 a pop. That’s right: four thousand dollars per book. Ironically, those books received by far her best reviews.

Personally, I think the entire trend is so exploitative and disgusting that I will never, ever buy another book by any “author” who franchises his or her name. As far as I'm concerned, it's a matter of principle. (Yeah, I’m looking at you Cussler, Evanovich, Clancy, Patterson, Flynn, etc.) The problem is, those are the Names who at least give slight acknowledgment to the writers whose bad luck they are exploiting. But there are others who insist that their ghostwriters remain forever unseen behind a curtain. This is particularly true of romance and urban fantasy authors.

So how do you know what you’re buying? Well, if a NYT bestselling author is putting out three books a year—or even two if they’re longish books and he has a heavy promotion schedule—then the chances are he or she is not really writing all of them.

Please note that I am not saying that the specific financial or working arrangements discussed in this post refer to all of the authors specifically mentioned, only that these authors are among those who have publicly acknowledged that at least some of their books are produced with "co-authors". Some of these named authors may indeed have far more equitable financial arrangements and participate far more in the writing of "their" books than those I do know about.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bird Brain

I have three hanging baskets of plants that decorate the front of my house. This weekend, I realized some stupid mourning dove has decided to use the basket outside my office door as a nest. She flew when I walked past the basket, so I stuck my phone up and took a picture to see if she'd laid her eggs yet. She had.

Last year, some stupid dove (it could even have been the same one) laid her eggs in the hanging basket right outside the front door. I couldn't water the basket because I worried it might hurt the eggs (and would scare her away), so the plants in the basket slowly died. Then the basket dried out so badly it started blowing in the wind, so we tied a line to a weight underneath to hold it steady. Then the plants withered to the point that the afternoon sun was nasty hot, so Steve rigged up a shade for her.

Both eggs hatched and, under our watchful eye, very quickly grew huge. The mama sat on that nest forever, but once the babies hatched (or at least, once we became aware of the fact that they'd hatched) they flew in about a week.

So here we go again. And I don't even particularly like mourning doves.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Mardi Gras Parades on You Tube

Just for fun, I've taken some of the photos from last Sunday and put them together into a video, with a soundtrack from Kevin MacLeod. It's only two minutes long, and I think gives a good feel for a day at the parades. The initial shots are from before the first parade arrived in the morning; it then progresses through the day until early evening, when we called it quits and left before the madness that was Bacchus and Endymion.

I've heard this Mardi Gras was unusually rowdy since it coincided with spring break and a lot of college kids came down to party. I think that shows as the day progresses.

I notice the photo quality degrades when uploaded to You Tube, and I'm obviously doing something wrong with the embed since it's bleeding into the right margin. Sigh. Anyway, here it is:

And don't forget to check out the link in the post below to a second interview, which also includes a drawing for a free copy of Where Shadows Dance.

Another Interview and a Book Giveaway


I have another interview--with a book giveaway--up at a site called Tanzanite's Castle Full of Books. This is another wonderful (but dangerous) site for lovers of both historical fiction and nonfiction to browse, especially if you're fond of medieval tales. I could spend forever just looking at the beautiful gowns portrayed in the cover art.

You can read the interview here. And don't forget the book giveaway, which is open until 11 March.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Scene of the Crime

I recently did an interview with J. Sydney Jones, the author of the new Viennese Mystery series, set in Vienna in 1900. As Karen Harper says, “What Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did for Victorian London and Caleb Carr did for old New York, J. Sydney Jones does for historic Vienna.” Syd has a blog that focuses on mystery writers and the places they set their books, which means it's a dangerous place for those of us with bulging TBR piles.

The interview is now up at Syd's blog, Scene of the Crime. You can read it here.

(Gorgeous cover, isn't it?)

Gone Parading

I missed the first Mardi Gras weekend thanks to an inconveniently timed book deadline.

But I'm making up for it...

More later.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Some Pub Dates

I asked my editor about future publication dates, and she tells me that When Maidens Mourn is scheduled to be released in March 2012. The paperback of Where Shadows Dance will be released the same month.

The paperback of What Remains of Heaven (those are the cover flats above, which just arrived on Friday) is scheduled for August 2011, which is a year after the release of the trade paperback. They won't be doing a trade version of Shadows. The manuscript for Book Number 8--as yet untitled (yes, here we go again...) is due 1 November 2011, so it may be scheduled for November of 2012. But don't quote me on that.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Where Shadows Dance on Sale Today

Where Shadows Dance officially goes on sale today.

Of course, that's the "official" release date. Some stores have been selling it already for a couple of weeks, which is not good for what is known in the business as "lay down." (Don't get me wrong, I'm not blaming anyone who bought it early!) Lay down is important because if it is controlled--in other words, if the book goes on sale everywhere on the same day, or at least in the same week--you have what is known in the business as "velocity." Lots of books being sold all at once means a book's chances of hitting bestseller lists is improved. When the book trickles out, those first sales are spread over several weeks and the chances of hitting a list are diminished.

Once upon a time, stores were pretty good about observing release dates. But then they got more sloppy. When you see a tightly held release for, say the new Harry Potter or the new Twilight, it's because the publisher paid for it. Isn't that weird? Publishers actually pay bookstores not to sell their book.

Crazy business.